The rapid development of governmental institutions in the last quarter of the thirteenth century led inevitably to a corresponding increase in the communal burdens of local administration. Studies in local administration at this period adequately demonstrate the multiplicity of functions performed by shire officials, and the pervasive interests of the central government in maintaining law and order at all levels. Helen Cam, for instance, found 166 royal and 22 seignorial officials active in Essex between 1254 and 1274, even before the innovations of Edward's reign. [1]It has been argued that this proliferation of officialdom so extended the duties of local government that it far outstripped the resources available to discharge such service. Thus it is assumed that knights at this period were scarce and precious in local government, and that the machinery of government was, in some counties, in danger of collapsing for want of properly qualified officials, or, in others, pressing heavily upon a small group of men who were scarcely able to the bear the strain. [2]However by no means all of these officials were of knightly status, or needed to be, nor did they all perform separate and distinct functions. The duties of undersheriffs, bailiffs, clerks, and possibly even coroners, fell to persons well below the level of knights. R.F. Treharne, for example, mentions only sheriffs, coroners and escheators as officials for whose posts the status of knight was essential; and he implies that even these elite offices would heavily burden a county in which only fifty knights were available for service. [3]These figures must be approached with caution. Even if one were to add to Treharne's three official posts a further seven hypothetical posts for which knights were essential a pool of fifty knights should, in theory, be able to discharge a total of ten official functions continuously over a period of thirty years at the rate of six years service per individual knights. That is to say, no single knight would necessarily spend more than one fifth of his hypothetical adult life in the duties of local administration. The truth, as Denholm Young has rightly shown, is that only a minority of counties could draw on such resources and in 1295 he estimated that at least twenty counties would have been unable to properly constitute a Grand Assize from knights resident in the county [4]The proliferation of offices of local government is no guarantee of their actual performance, nor were the majority of local government offices restricted to knights. The extent to which the local gentry, knights or otherwise, were in fact burdened with office therefore remains open to question.

The present chapter is not intended to be an analysis or description of local government in Essex, nor will it attempt to enumerate all of the offices which local gentry might have been expected to perform during the latter part of the thirteenth century. It is concerned with the more restricted discussion of the administrative and quasi administrative offices or functions known to have been performed by the knights in the Essex sample, and with the extent to which these offices constituted a genuine burden on the time of the gentry.

In all some twenty five separate functions emerge. Not all were necessarily restricted to the knights, but all came within the generally accepted framework of thirteenth century local administration, and they reveal two major areas in which the knights were particularly active. The first major area is that of public administration properly so defined and subdivides into three further sectors. These were, firstly, the executive sector, which includes the offices of sheriff, coroner keeper of the peace, bailiff, custodian and the two additional central government functions of parliamentary representative and tax collector which will be dealt with separately. With the exception of the latter two functions which were by their nature occasional and intermittent the remaining executive offices were, in principle continuous and could be considered to be virtually full time posts. The second category consists of intermittent or occasional offices including judicial commissions of oyer and terminer, gaol delivery, special or extraordinary commissions, and such administrative duties as inspecting walls, ditches and sea defences. Lastly, the communal sector, including jury service, the exercise of franchisal rights within seigorial jurisdictions, and the performance of a variety of other communal obligations which were inherent in the county rather than imposed from outside by the central government. These latter duties could be both continuous and occasional.

Each of these subdivisions represents the knights as 'operators' of local government, although the last category is very much on the borderlines between public and private business. Nevertheless feudal franchises still entailed real governmental obligations with respect to the communities under the authority of the franchise holder and failure to perform these duties could lead to central government penalties, especially when Edward Ist began to investigate franchisal rights and transform them into genuine public obligations. [5]

The second major area in which the knights were particularly active was that of private business, in which they acted as litigants in the courts, as sureties for the behaviour or debts of their friends and associates, as witnesses to legal instruments, as enrolled debtors or creditors, as parties to fines for conveyances and as litigants generally, both plaintiffs and defendants. In each of these categories the knights or gentry were acting as users or consumers of the institutions of government, utilising the courts and other agencies of government as a means of furthering their own private interests, or the interests of others. This chapter is concerned with the role of the Essex gentry as 'operators' of government. In the next following chapter some consideration will be given to their activities as consumers, together with some assessment of their relative performance in both categories. The survey follows the pattern of the preceding chapters by dividing the sample of knights into four principal groups, parliamentary [A] assessors and collectors [B] , resident in Essex [C] and non resident [D]and will work through the offices of government from the top down.


The most prominent office in local administration was that of sheriff; 'one of the most useful and efficient parts of the Angevin system of government', and, because of the tyrannies to which a royal or baronial sheriff might feel himself attracted, one of the primary targets of the baronial reformers in 1259-60. [6] In this, as in many other respects, the baronial party attempted to limit tenure of the shrievalty to local 'vavasors' or gentry, formally elected top the office in the county court. The aims of the reformers of 1260 were not substantially altered by Edward Ist.

Six of the knights in the sample held office as sheriffs during the reign of Edward Ist. Four of these came from Groups A and B, and one each from groups C and D. They were, in chronological order; Lamburn [D], Blount [A], Boxsted [C], Grapinel [A], Gros [B], Lee [A] [twice]. In addition two other knights in the sample, Baud [B] and Goldingham [D] acted as sheriff during the first three years of the reign of Edward IInd. [7]

Taken individually, William de Lambourn was sheriff from July 1285 to the end of 1286. His career is a paradigm for the penalties of medieval office. Whilst still acting as sheriff he was amerced 6d and fined £10 for various defaults and transgressions and in addition his lands and goods were ordered to be distrained to compel him to account for debts amounting to £12 or more. [8]Three years after he had given up the shrievalty the Exchequer began to pursue him in earnest for alleged outstanding debts. In 1289 his liabilities were said to exceed £74. [9]He was acquitted of a variety of minor debts in 1291 [10]but in 1294 the Essex sheriff was ordered to attach William for his debts , and a further order for distraint in 1298 suggests that he owed more than £200. [11]Finally, in 1299, at the height of Edward's desperate search for funds, his lands and body were ordered to be attached to account for the debts of his shrievalty, on the understanding that he had an income of more than £40 p.a. by reason of which he could be held to answer for his debts [12]This expedient was presumably frustrated by William's death in 1300 [13], but by 1303 the Exchequer was putting pressure on his son James, for the remaining debts. [14]These were not met, either in 1303, or in 1307, when he was allowed a date to settle his account [15], and he was not finally acquitted of the debts left to him by his father until 1309. [16]In the space of one year., then, Lambourne incurred debts to the crown through his service as sheriff which pursued him for the of his life, and which lingered on to plague his son.

William de Lambourne was succeeded as sheriff by the quondam London burgess Hugh le Blount [17]whose financial competence was, if anything, even more doubtful though he seems to have been more adept at extracting himself from the clutches of the Exchequer. An initial order for the distraint of outstanding shrieval debts amounting to £470 was issued in 1289, as with Lambourne, about one year after he vacated the office. This was followed by two further orders in 1293 and 1294, the latter requiring the new sheriff to have Hugh at the Exchequer to account for his debts, but, since he did not come, the sheriff was further ordered to distrain upon his lands and goods for £404 still owing. [18]Whatever the outcome of these instruction. £380 was still owing four years later, and, as with Lambourne, the final expedient in 1299 was to attach his body to answer for his debts, again on the understanding that he had lands worth £40 per annum and issues of grain etc, with which he could be held to account. [19]Apparently Hugh was able to offer some good reason for defaulting, since all his debts were respited in 1300, pending negotiations with the Exchequer [20]and, as far as has been discovered, no further orders were issued in respect of the money owing from his period as sheriff. Whatever his failings as sheriff , Hugh was one of the most active of all the knights in the sample, and he did succeed in extracting one mark from the Burgesses of Dunstable in 1287, 'pro pluribus defaultis judaysmi'[21], though Dunstable was hardly in his shrievalty!

The remaining sheriffs in the sample were either more scrupulous in the financial relations with the Exchequer, or else escaped detection. None escaped entirely without blemish. Ralph de Boxted, the only resident Group C knight to hold the office followed Blount at Easter 1288, and held office until Michaelmas 1290. [22]In 1289 his lands were ordered to be taken into the king's hands, to discharge a debt of £36 arising out of the shrievalty, and he was allocated a day later in 1290 to account for a debt estimated at £40. [23]He apparently defaulted on the day, so a further order for distraint was issued in 1293, and again in 1298, when his debts were said to exceed £150. [24]His heirs were still being hounded for a debt of £1 in 1305, two years after his death. [25].

Boxted was succeeded in 1290 by Henry Grapinel [A] who held the shrievalty until May 1292. [26] He was amerced 100s during his first year of office for failing to send his clerk to receive mandates arising from the account of his predecessor, and was distrained in 1292 to account for the custody of the goods and chattels of Peter de la Mare. [27]Both Grapinel and his successor, John Carbonel, were distrained at the end of 1292 to account for unspecified debts arising from their terms of office. [28]Henry was summoned to appear before the barons of the Exchequer in 1296, but it is not clear that this was connected with his shrieval debts. [29]His heirs, all of them daughters, were respited his debts after his death. [30]

John Carbonel, not on the sample, held office from May to December 1292, and was succeeded by William le Gros [B], who appears to have kept out of serious trouble, He was accused of presenting a false tally at the end of his term of office in 1294, but was exonerated, and an order for distraint of debts, issued in the same year, was backed up by a further order in 1295, to recover remaining debts amounting to no more than 66s 6d. [31]

Lastly John de la Lee [A] held office twice, from 22nd October 1299 to 26th October 1301, and from 7th October 1304 to 12th April 1306. [32]There are no records of any debts arising from his first period of office, but at the beginning of his second period he was accused of defaulting on a view of account, and the Essex Coroners were ordered to attach his lands and body. [33] His tenure of the shrievalty was also made conditional on the presentation of adequate sureties, but, since he continued to hold office, it may be assumed that he was able to meet the necessary requirements. [34]

The knights in the sample represent only six out of a total of seventeen 'knights' acting as sheriffs of Essex during the reign of Edwards Ist, and their total period of office was about twelve years our of a possible total of thirty five years. This is consistent with an average period of office of about two years each, for all the knights acting as sheriff within than reign. In the cases of Blount, Gros and Lambourne the shrievalty was the first administrative post held in the royal service, and it perhaps significant that the debts they incurred were quite considerable, whereas Boxted, Grapinel, Gros and Lee appear to have kept within more reasonable limits. It might seem that the debts incurred by sheriffs resulted as much from inexperience, or incompetence as from deliberate or supposed malversation.. There is no doubt that while the actual burden of office may have been light, the penalties for incompetence could be formidable. Both Blount and Lambourn were specifically said to have held lands worth £40 per annum which could be used to secure their debts, and in this, as in other medieval posts, the provision of adequate securities was apparently regarded as sufficient qualification for administrative responsibility. Thus it cannot necessarily be assumed that such appointments were made on the basis of either experience or competence, or that the sheriff was anything more than an executive official backed up by a clerk and administrative bureaucracy, with whom the real authority and continuity of the sheriff's office lay. If the £40 income qualification was uniformly applied to the office of the sheriff it would automatically restrict it to a narrower element within the gentry, though it more than covers the £20 income limit usually used as the criterion for distraint of knighthood.

The subsequent history of the men who acted as sheriffs suggests that their failings did not prevent them holding further offices in local government. Blount, for example, managed to account for his debts in the end, and was subsequently appointed to two other administrative posts, as Keeper of the Park at Rayliegh in 1300, and as an Assessor and Collector of the fifteenth of 1301, one of the few knights to combine representation in parliament and tax collecting, where he incurred further outstanding debts. [35]Lambourn's debts arose mainly from his failure to account for the issues of lands which had been placed in his custody during the time he was sheriff, [36]and it is easy to imagine that keeping track of such issues might not be an easy task. Again his financial failings as sheriff do not appear to have inhibited his subsequent career in local government, as will be seen. Gros, likewise, later acted as a justice, and as an Assessor and Collector of taxation, but Boxted, who held the shrievalty coterminously with the office of Keeper of the Peace from 1288-1290, [37]does not appear to have been active in any other field of public administration. Grapinel and Lee both had some experience of royal service before taking office as sheriff, [38]and, with Gros, they appear to have been slightly more competent in financial administration.

No significant judgment may be made on the strength of a mere six instances, nor is a judgment necessary at this stage. It may be suggested, however that since experience may not have been a necessary qualification for the office of sheriff, that office could be discharged by any person of unknown, or untried, ability whose potential failings, for whatever reason, could be recouped by distraint upon his private resources. Those who sought the office of sheriff presumably believed that they could profit personally from it, but, as other studies have shown, the risks probably outweighed the opportunities.

Keepers of the Peace.

The office of Keeper of the Peace was an occasional post which might be considered complementary to the Sheriff, and was later to provide a precedent for the much more significant post of Justice of the Peace. It began as an occasional appointment of a judicial or military character commissioned for specific purposes within the county and usually in response to emergency conditions of some kind. The office was given formal recognition in the Statute of Winchester in 1287 [39] Only three of the knights in the sample acted as Keepers of the Peace in Essex during the reign of Edward Ist, namely, William de Lambourn [D] and Ralph de Boxted [C], both assigned in 1287 under the terms of the Statute of Winchester, [40]and Richard de Tany [C] who held office as 'custos pacis' in Essex in 1277 [41] , and as 'capitaneus et custos pacis' in Essex in 1295, a post which was combined with his wardenship of the maritime parts of the same county. [42]His duties in this capacity exceeded the normal judicial functions of the Keeper of the Peace and included powers of military command which will be discussed later. It is not clear how long Lambourn and Boxted held office as Keepers of the Peace. But the latter was still acting in that capacity two years later, when he was also sheriff. [43]The more troubled reign of Edward IInd brought more knights into commission as Keepers of the Peace. Duresme and Blount, for example, were active between 1307 and 1310, and were both urged to be more strenuous in the performance of their duties. Blount, Duresme and Wauton, active together in 1314, and Wauton and Wokingdon active in 1316, when Wauton was also Warden of the Coast from the Thames to Ipswich. [44]The sureties which might be demanded of Keepers of the Peace are not defined, but those appointed under the rather special conditions of 1258 were to receive the Keeping of the Counties at the Exchequer 'and not to omit this as they love what they hold in England and wish to dwell in the King's realm'. [45]However, since the Keepers appear to have been less concerned with money and more concerned with command, other criteria of competence may well have been applied to them.


Evidence relating to the Essex coroners, beyond simple lists of incumbents, is hard to find. Three knights in the sample were replaced as coroners, usually on the grounds that they were insufficiently qualified.. These were Watevill [C], replaced in 1275, Barew [C] replaced in 1286, and Baud [B], replaced in 1298. [46]Sutton [A] was replaced in 1314 because 'incapacitated by age and infirmity' [47], John le Breton [A] was quit of the coronership of the hundred of Rochford in 1257, leaving a vacancy was explicitly to be filled by election. [48] John de la Lee, who had been sheriff in 1299, was replaced as Coroner in 1318, because insufficiently qualified. [49]Since the evidence is almost entirely negative it cannot be assumed that other knights on the sample did not successfully fulfil both the qualifications and the office of Coroner, leaving no record of their appointment. Nor is it possible to determine with any certainty the form of the qualifications required for such service in Essex, or the period for which individuals were expected to take office. According to Gross, the main qualifications for the office of coroner were knighthood, residence in the county, and sufficient lands to guarantee good behaviour. Tenure was for life, as the case of John de Sutton implies, or during good behaviour. [50]Fleta, quoting from the first Statute of Westminster, suggests that coroners should be elected from among the more honourable and trustworthy knights of the county who know bets how to discharge their office and are willing and able to do so. [51]The Essex evidence, such as it is, reveals anomalies. As has just been seen John de la Lee was competent to be a sheriff in 1299, but was not qualified to be a Coroner in 1311. The same was true of Baud, who was sheriff in 1307-8, but was not deemed qualified to act as Coroner in 1298. [52]One other Essex Coroner, Robert Doget, who held office with Barew, was ordered to be replaced in 1286, and in this case the reason given was that his lands had reverted to his wife's heirs [53]thus, presumably, removing the security necessary to enforce his good behaviour in office. Similar instances may be found in other counties. For example, in Northamptonshire, one Philip le Rus was elected coroner for Northampton town, but later received a knighthood, upon which distinction he removed himself to his estates in the country, thus precluding the proper execution of his duties as coroner in the town. [54]In Berkshire, William Jordan , lately elected Coroner in 1300, was replaced because he held all of his lands on the ancient demesne and could not therefore be subjected to Common Law. [55] The former case is another example of the movement of a burgess into the landed aristocracy, the latter testifies to the ingenuity of the claims for exemption from an office which was apparently viewed by some as burdensome.

So far as Essex is concerned three crucial factors relating to the office of coroner are obscured. Firstly the period of service, secondly the nature of the qualifications required to be a coroner, and thirdly the identity of the properly qualified coroners themselves. The rolls of the 1285 Eyre in Essex include a list of eight coroners appointed between 1285 and the last preceding Eyre, which was probably in 1272. [56]With the exception of Giffard and Plumberew, these were apparently men of little social significance. Neither they not their families were listed as armigerous in the so called Parliamentary Roll of Arms, nor enrolled as resident knights in the 1295 Ordinance for the Defence of the Essex coast. On the other hand there are no apparent records of the appointment or replacement of these men on the Close or Patent Rolls, so it must be assumed that they were thought properly qualified and held office without question. Given an apparently paradoxical application of the qualifications ostensibly governing the election of Coroners, it would seem that the authorities were either totally unreasonable in their expectations, or that those best qualified to act as Coroners were also best qualified to find excuses for avoiding or rescinding their appointment. Since the office of Coroner was probably the most onerous and least glamourous, not to say the least lucrative, office in local administration it is very likely that the more powerful amongst the gentry attempted to avoid it by following the time honoured tradition of unloading the nastier jobs onto individuals further down the social pecking order in the county caucus. [57]This tendency does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that there were insufficient knights to go round, but it does suggest a natural preference on the part of the wealthier knights for the more lucrative and prestigious jobs in local government. Given the office of coroner was open ended a turnover of eight coroners in a period of 13 years between 1272 and 1285 [58]compares with turnover of six sheriffs within the same period, and is suggests that individual coroners may have held office from between one to three years, though they could in theory be expected to act for life. There were, however several coroners in the county at any one time, compared with only one sheriff.

The three offices of Sheriff, Coroner, and Keeper of the Peace constitute the continuous, or semi continuous, posts in local administration known to have been performed by the knights in the sample. Three other functions fall into a similar category, but belong more properly to the king's private, as opposed to public administration. John de Sutton [A] was acting SubEscheator in Essex in 1289, John Fillol [A] was custodian of the estates of John de Dagworth in Suffolk and Essex, also in 1289, and was held to account for their issues in 1290-1, and Geoffrey Morel [C] was replaced as verderer after his death in 1321. [59]In addition, two other knights acted as bailiffs in royal Hundreds and Honours in Essex. Firstly, John de la Lee [A] who was bailiff of Hinckford and Uttlesford Hundreds in, or before, 1285, and was also bailiff of the Honours of Boulogne, Peverel and Rayleigh, and the Honour of Haughley in Suffolk, in 1295 which posts he held until he became custodian of Barstable Hundred in 1300. [60]Secondly, William de Hanningfield [D] was fined in 1285 for his transgressions as bailiff in an unspecified Hundred. [61]

Judicial Commissions.

Unlike the three major executive offices in local government the Judicial Commissions performed by the gentry were occasional or discontinuous in nature, and very specific in their purpose. They did not presuppose an extended period of service, and it may be assumed that such commissions might be discharged quite rapidly, at least as far as the minor jurisdiction of the knights was concerned. Although the presence of knights was often deemed essential to judicial investigations in the counties, the knights themselves did not generally exercise judicial authority. From the mid thirteenth century onwards it became common for the more routine pleas to be heard before itinerant justices acting in association with the local gentry who provided them with local information. During the reign of Edward Ist the gentry were allowed only limited jurisdiction in holding extraordinary commissions, either to deliver gaols, which Maitland considered to be the exercise of high criminal justice, [62]or to hear and determine specific cases which required special knowledge or rapid action. Both of these areas of jurisdiction were subsequently restricted  by statute to royal professional justices, and permanent minor jurisdiction was not regained by the gentry until the semi permanent Keepers of the Peace mutated into Justice of the Peace in the fourteenth century. [63]The tendency of Edwardian legal administration would thus seem to have favoured the professional justice and excluded the amateur. In practice the former could rarely proceed without the local knowledge and informed advice of the latter, so that the gentry did not escape the duties of participation in the taking of assizes and the hearing of please. By 1300 the pressure of popular demand had so overburdened the machinery that local gentry were again being commissioned as Keepers of the Peace, to supplement the professional justices in the execution of petty justice. [64]

Gaol Delivery

Commissions of Gaol Delivery were limited by statute in 1299 [65]to the authority of professional justices, but prior to that date it was customary to authorise local knights to deliver specific gaols in the counties, usually, but not always, in association with a royal justice. In Essex six of the knights on the sample were commissioned to deliver gaols, either at Colchester, or elsewhere in East Anglia, and the last recorded commission to any of them was issued in December 1296, two years before the statute was promulgated. [66]Those concerned were, in Group A, John le Breton, who held three sessions at Colchester gaol in 1287 to deliver named felons, and one sessions each at Hertford in 1287 ands 1288, again for specifically named felons. [67]In this group of commissions he was associated with R. De Boyland, a royal justice, [68], and two other local men, including, at various times, Roger Baynard, Lawrence de Plumberew, whom we have also see as a Coroner, and William de Ayette of Hertfordshire. [69]He held four further commissions, with William de Wauton [A] at Ipswich in 1292 and Norwich in 1293, one, probably in 1294, also with Wauton, at Colchester, and another in February 1296, to deliver Colchester Gaol of John, vicar of Coggeshall, who he had imprisoned three years earlier for illegally fishing in the stews of the abbot of Coggeshall. [ 70] John le Breton was more noticeably active in judicial commissions than most of the other local gentry and, may, indeed, have been a professional justice. [71] More typical of the generality of the gentry are John Fillol and Henry Grapinel, both of whom performed only one commission each, the former at Colchester in 1296, the latter at Rayleigh in November 1288, in association with Boyland, Plumberew and Baynard. [72]William de Wauton held three commissions of Gaol Delivery, all with Breton in 1292 and 1293 [73], but no such commissions were held by the knights in Group B. In Group C only the powerful and active Richard de Tany acted as a justice, delivering Colchester gaol in 1291, with Plumberew, Baynard and Horkele, and again at Colchester in 1294, though this may have been a retrospective action to clarify the records of his last commission. [74]Lastly, William de Lambourne, one of the more active knights in Group D, held three commissions at Hertford with Thomas de Sandwych, recently sheriff of Essex, in 1293, another at Colchester in 1294, and in general for Essex and Herts, also in 1294. [75]

Oyer et Terminer

Commissions of Oyer and Terminer were more general than those of Gaol Delivery, and could be applied to a variety of problems where local investigation and expert knowledge was required. [76]More often than not such commissions were directed to deal with specific cases and were therefore assigned on an occasional and irregular basis. As with Gaol Delivery, the judicial authority vested in commissioners of Oyer and Terminer was restricted to professional judges, with whom the local gentry were associated as advisors. The most active of the Essex gentry in this field was, again, the parliamentary knight John le Breton but as before there is a question mark over his true identity. The cases cited here refer only to Essex, but an individual with the same name was receiving similar commissions in other counties, especially Norfolk and Suffolk. The John le Breton active between 1264 and 1311 was son of William le Breton, whom Foss identifies as one of Edward Ist's justices [77]and a William le Breton was certainly active as a justice up to 1261, in which year William father of John died, his lands being taken into the king's hands as security for his debts. [78]It is entirely possible that John followed his father into the legal profession, though he is not identified as such by Foss. He was probably active as a Commissioner of Oyer and Terminer in Essex from about 1279 until 1302, and elsewhere in East Anglia, particularly in Norfolk, until his death in 1311. [79]His activities in Essex began in November 1279,  in association with the known royal justice Thomas de Weylond, in a case of trespass in the park of John Lovetot [80]Further commissions were undertaken into a murder in 1284, with justice Hamo de Hauteyn, into an appeal in Hertfordshire in 1289, with Thomas de Bray and William de Ayette, and with the parliamentary knight Henry Grapinel into two cases of trespass in 1291, one in the king's park, and one in the park of the bishop of London, the latter case being hear again later in 1291, with justice Ralph de Sandwych. [81] Breton acted again with Grapinel in 1292, in a trespass of venison (poaching) in the king's park, and in two hearings of a case of trespass in Hugh le Despenser's park, firstly in association with the non resident group D knight William de Haningfield in September 1295, and secondly, in December of the same year, with William de Sutton. [82]Further cases of trespass in Hugh's park occasioned two further commissions in 1299, firstly in May to Breton in association with John de Botetourt and Simon Bradenham, and secondly, in June, to Breton and Bradenham alone. [83]Finally he was appointed to a commission with justice Spigurnel in January 1302, but was replaced in march by William of Haningfield [A] [84] In all he received eleven commissions of Oyer and Terminer in Essex between 1279 and 1302, of which only those of 1279, 1284 and 1302 were in association with known royal justices. It is possible that in the remaining cases his experience of legal procedures allowed him to act as a superior justice in association with other knights. After 1307 he appears to have been diverted into East Anglia, receiving some fifteen commissions of Oyer and Terminer in Norfolk and Ssuffolk between 1307 and 1311, together with occasional commissions in Essex. [85]With the exception of Haningfield [D], who also received ten commissions, Breton's performance is quite exceptional by comparison with other knights in the sample, and tends to the conclusion that was a professional justice, or was at least considered to have qualities and skills which were not typical of other conventional knights. Apart from attending parliament for Essex in 1290, and, possibly assessing and collecting a tax in Norfolk in 1301, he did very little else. [86]

The remaining knights in Group A received rather fewer commissions of Oyer and Terminer. John Fillol may have served once in Sussex in 1307, and again in Sussex and Kent in 1314. [87]There is no evidence that he held lands in these counties but it was not uncommon for local knights to be assigned to judicial tasks in other counties where, perhaps, impartiality, or a shortage of indigenous knights, may have been more important than immediate local knowledge. Henry Grapinel was twice associated with Breton, in 1291 and 1292. He also acted in a case of trespass in 1296, associated with Justice J. De Bosco, and with Justice Beresford he investigated a complaint arising in 1297 from the execution of the will of Robert Burnell, Edward's chancellor. [88]In none of these cases did Grapinel act independently as a royal justice. John de la Lee also received three commissions, all in 1300. In March he acted with William de Sutton in a complaint by the Commonalty of Colchester that a whale taken at Colchester had been illegally removed by persons unknown. In April and August he enquired with William de Milkesop into alleged obstructions in the Thames and into trespasses in the park of Alexander Balliol in Hertfordshire . [89]Lee was not, apparently, associated with a royal Justice in any of these cases, and it may be that the gravity of the cases was not such as to warrant such authority, though the Balliol family was not to be trifled with.

William de Wauton [A] and Walter le Baud [B] were not appointed to act on commissions of Oyer and Terminer until the reign of Edward IInd, although both were active in other fields in the late thirteenth century. [90] One other knight in Group B, William le Gros, received a commission with Roger Bryan in 1289 into trespasses against the earl of Hereford in his park in Middlesex, and a further commission with justice Spigurnel in an appeal brought in Essex in 1301. [91]Altogether only four knights from the resident Group C received commissions of Oyer and Terminer, two of them in the reign of Edward II [92]Of the remainder, Nicholas Barrington [C] was commissioned with Justice Wengrave to enquire who should repair the bridge at Great Laver and received three related commissions in 1304, with Haningfield [D] and Justice Spigurnel, into further trespasses and waste in the Earl of Hereford's park in Middlesex. [93]Hugh Crepping [C] received one commission with Haningfield in 1295 into poaching in the park of Richard de Scalers at Rivenhall in Essex, [94]without an associated professional justice.

Even fewer of the non resident knights in Group D were associated with Oyer and Terminer commissions, but one of these, the already mentioned William de Haningfield, took part in ten commissions, not all of them in Essex. He was commissioned with Crepping, as above, in August 1295, and in September of the same year he enquired with Breton into trespasses in the park of Hugh le Despenser [95]The Scalers case was apparently still outstanding in January 1296, when Haningfield went to Gascony, leaving William de Sutton to complete the commission. [96]A commission with Spigurnel into robbery in Suffolk, issued in May 1299, was also still outstanding in March 1300, when Spigurnel was replaced, again by Sutton. [97]On March 22nd of the same year Haningfield, Sutton and Haward were commissioned to enquire in trespasses and assaults in Norfolk, [98]and in July 1302 a pardon was issued on the basis of the record of Haningfield and Spigurnel, appointed to hear an appeal of murder earlier in the year [99]Finally, Haningfield was associated with Barrington and justices Spigurnel and Wengrave into enquiries into yet more trespasses in the park of the Earl of Hereford in Middlesex in 1304-5 [100]Of the rest, William de Lambourne [D] was commissioned with Richard de Holebrook in 1290 to enquire into the felling and removal of trees belonging to one Oliver of Colchester, and , with William de Sutton, into poaching on the lands of John Engayne in 1296. [101]

There were, in all, twenty three cases in Essex, and rather more commissions, since several cases were heard more than once. By far the majority of the cases arose from complaints of trespass, and, in eight out of fifteen well defined cases, the complainant was a person of above average status, for example, the king, the Bishop of London. Hugh le Despenser, Alexander Balliol, and the Earl of Hereford. In sixteen of the twenty three cases local knights appear to have acted in association with professional justices, and in each of the five cases of murder a professional justice was present. No known professional justices were present at the two special enquiries held by Lee, Sutton and Milkesop in 1300, or at the enquiries held into trespasses against the parks of the Earl of Hereford and Alexander Balliol. Complaints of trespass by Oliver of Colchester in 1290, Roger Scalers in 1295, John Engayne in 1296 and Hugh Bardolf in 1300 were all dealt with by local knights apparently unaided by professional justices. [102]It would seem, then, that local knights were not generally entrusted with petty jurisdiction, except in cases where the complainant or the complaint was of minor importance, or where the circumstances of the case might require special local knowledge, as, for instance, in the case of the whale stranded at Colchester in 1300, and the obstruction of the Thames by 'vessels' in the same year. Both of these cases were dealt with by John de la Lee who was also at that time sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire and therefore competent to discharge these matters by the authority of his office. [103]

Wallis et Fossatis

Another regular, but occasional, commission was that of Walls and Ditches which was primarily administrative rather than judicial in character and was concerned with the proper upkeep of sewers, sea defences, walls, river banks, and ditches, all of special interest to the estuarine parts of Essex and the coasts of East Anglia in general. [104]Five Essex knights were involved in commissions of Walls and Ditches, three from Group A, one each from Groups B and C. The non resident knights were not involved at all. In Group A Hugh le Blount served in December 1290 with John de Dover ad William Gatecumbe, and William de Wauton, probably with John le Breton in 1306. [105]The two remaining commissions were received by Walter le Baud [B] with Richard de Perneford and John de Dover in 1303, and by William de Lambourn [D] with John de Luvetot in 1287. [106]

Irregular Commissions

In addition to these occasional judicial and administrative commissions many knights in the sample also received a miscellany of ad hoc commissions, covering a wide variety of judicial, administrative or military functions. For the most part these commissions were exceptional in character, one offs which do not fit into a regular pattern. They have therefore been organised in order of their performance by groups of knights, rather in order of type.

Firstly, in the Parliamentary Group A, Hugh le Blount held two such commissions, as keeper of the King's park in Rayleigh in 1300, and, possibly, as a juror enquiring into knights' fees in the Hundred of Wylie, Bedfordshire, in 1302 [107]John le Breton, acting it seems as a professional justice, received only two special commissions in Essex. The first was in 1300 with Jollan de Duresme [A], and Peter de Suthchurch, into complaints of transgressions against the Forest Charters, and the second with William le Gros [B] into the lands and rights of the Hospital of Lepers at St Mary's Colchester. [108]Jollan de Duresme also acted with Breton in aforementioned commission of 1300, and John Fillol held two quasi military commissions, as Keeper of the Essex Coast from 1295 to 1297, in association with Robert de St Clare and Richard de Tany [C], and as a purveyor of corn in Essex in 1303. [109]He may have enquired into knight's fees in Surrey and Sussex in 1314, although the latter entry is uncertain and may refer to a different Tany. [110]Henry Grapinel was involved in only one ad hoc commission, in an inquest before the sheriff of Essex into the lands and services of Stephen de Berwes, hanged for felony. [111]John de Tany [A] and William de Wauton [A] both received a number of commissions in the period 1314-15, but the latter alone was active in this capacity in the reign of Edward Ist, as purveyor of corn in Essex for the Scottish campaign of 1306. [112]

In Group B, Bartholomew de Brianzon was one of the commissioners in the Hundredal Inquests in Surrey, Sussex and Middlesex in 1274, and was assigned in 1277 with the mayor of London in terminating a long standing plea. [113]He held two further cases in 1278, both relating to currency offences committed by Jews. [114]William le Gros was associated with Breton in the case concerning the Hospital of the Lepers in Colchester, with John de Wengrave as a Justice of Trailbaston in 1303, and with Thomas Ultyng enquiring into 'excesses' committed by archers and others on their way to Scotland in 1310. [115]Lastly, Robert de St Clare received only one commission, as Warden of the Sea Coast, with Tany and Fillol in 1295-6. [116]

In Group C Essex Residents, Richard de Tany held the commision just mentioned, after receiving four other quasi military commissions during the reign of Henry IIIrd. [117]Nicholas de Barrington held only one commission in the reign of Edward Ist, into the maintenance of a bridge at Poklmere (sic)Essex in 1302, but he subsequently received similar commissions acting as a justice to perambulate the Forest boundaries in 1315, and enquiring into rights in Hatfield Broadoak in 1325. [118]Hugh Crepping was appointed in 1279 to keep the manors of Bluntshall and Tolleshunt, late of Nicholas Tregoz, [119]which he subsequently claimed as his own right. The only knight in Group D to hold an extraordinary commission was William de Haningfield, who was equally active as an associate justice of Oyer et Terminer. He was commissioned in 1290 to extend the manors of Burnham and Reyndon (sic) in Essex, to associate with the sheriff in distraining £40 landholders to serve in Scotland in 1300, to enquire before the sheriff into trespasses in the park of the Earl of Oxford in 1302, to enforce the prohibition on the export of corn, victuals and money in 1307, and, in the reign of Edward IInd, to hear complaints of prises taken against the Statute of Stamford. [120]

Fourteen knights from each of the groups in the sample undertook special or extraordinary commissions. Half of these had also acted on commissions of Oyer et Terminer, and two others had done Gaol Delivery service. Special commissions were, therefore, more common than judicial commissions and may have been more appropriate to the knowledge and abilities of the knights involved, especially where the commissions required familiarity with the local topography of Essex, or some element of military knowledge. There is also a detectable tendency for some individuals to specialise in areas in which they appear to have had some particular experience..

The knights in the sample were also active in three other areas of public administration; as Jurors of Presentment before Eyres and Assizes, as holders of minor franchises, such as view of Frankpledge or the Assize of Bread and Ale, and as bearers of communal obligations, for example the maintenance of roads and bridges in their localities. These categories shade off into the uncertain borderland between private and public responsibilities, but they were still duties of government even if their impetus came from local obligation rather than central command.

Jury Service

The most common obligation was that of Jury Service, either in juries of presentment, or on assizes, though the former service was generally performed by all freeholders and other trusty men who were not necessarily knights. In the 1285 Eyre in Essex, eighteen of the knights in the sample served as jurors, either for the county, or for presentments from individual Hundreds. They were, in Group A, Grapinel, Arderne, Duresme, Sutton and Wauton, jurors for the Hundreds of Witham, Dunmow and Hinckford, [121]Blount, elector for Chelmsford and juror for a Grand Assize; Breton, juror on a jury of twelve knights and Grapinel elector of a jury for a Grand Assize. [122]In Group B, Baud was juror for Barstable Hundred, Brianzon for Rochford and Dengie, Gros for Tendring, and knight juror for the county, and Twinstead juror for Chelmsford Hundred. [123]In Group C, Barrington and Boxted were electors and jurors in the Hundreds of Barstable and Lexden, Burnham was a juror in Tendring, and Boxted, Crepping and Pratellis were all jurors on a Grand Assize. [124]In Group D, Coggeshall was a knight of the shire on a jury of twelve knights, Mare was a juror in Harlow Hundred and Writtle Vill, though there is no record that he ever held lands there, and was a knight of the shire on a jury of twelve knights. [125]Other knights served on important juries at other times; Wascoyl [B] and Morel [C] for the county in 1314, Merk J. [D] as juror and elector in Dunmow in 1271-2, and Lambourne [D] may have been a juror for Chelmsford in 1253. [126]

The total number of twenty two knights acting as jurors represents about half of the sample, and does not include other knights and substantial freeholders whose names appear alongside the sample knights and who were also active on juries in Essex. Seven of the twenty two knights were electors of juries for their Hundreds, and no less than twelve sat at different times on Grand Assizes, or as juries of twelve knights representing the county, in the county court. These men were probably amongst the most significant in the county caucus. They were, in the first category, Blount, Duresme, Sutton, Wauton, Barrington, Boxted and Merk J. In the second category; Blount, Breton, Duresme, Grapinel, Gros, Wascoyl, Boxted, Crepping, Morel, Pratellis, Coggeshall and Mare.

Franchisal Rights

Liability to jury service was urged on the gentry as a communal obligation contingent on the status as knights or potential knights. They were also prepared to adopt, or even usurp,. Minor rights of jurisdiction which fell to them through the petty franchises claimed as part of their seignorial authority. The most lucrative of the franchises commonly available to manorial lords was the right to hold the view of Frankpledge and to enforce the assizes of Bread and Ale, infringement of which incurred financial penalties which were a valuable source of income to the lord of the manor. More important lords might hold, or claim to hold, more extensive liberties such as gallows and tumbril, infangentheof and outfangentheof, some of which could entail the right to high capital justice normally reserved by this time to the crown courts. Franchisal rights have been the subject of much study by others especially in relation to the Quo Warranto inquests of Edward Ist [127] . Such franchises were considered by their holders to be private rights of justice which were appurtenances of the manor, but the crown considered them to by public obligations held by individuals as concessions from the crown. Edward Ist attempted either to regain or, more commonly, to license private franchises so that the crown continued to exercise some control over them, and derived some benefit from them. However they are viewed, franchisal rights were a significant cog in the machinery of local administration. Reliable data on the tenure of minor franchises should, in principle, be easily available through the two major inquests into franchises made in 1274, immediately after Edward's accession, and the various Quo Warranto proceedings which started in earnest in the 1280s. In fact the nature of these inquests was such that knights whose claims to franchises were dubious might have obvious motives for concealing their liberties from the royal justices. Thus only fifteen knights in the sample, in itself only an minimum estimate of the total number of potential knights in late thirteenth century Essex, held, or were deemed to hold, franchisal liberties. It must be assumed that there were others of knightly status, or at least manorial lords, who also held such franchises but managed to conceal them, and, as we shall see, yet others whose right to hold such liberties was disputed by the communities on which the burden of franchisal justice might fall. Either way the evidence is potentially insecure.

The most common liberty was view of frankpledge, usually, but not always, held together with the Assize of Bread and Ale. Nine of the fifteen knights in question held either or both of these liberties as appurtenances of their manors. In order of Groups they were, in Group A, Breton who claimed view of frankpledge in Boxted, and Duresme who claimed both liberties in Roding, though the jury in 1285 asserted that he had no such liberties there. [128] Wascoyl, in Group B, claimed frankpledge, Bread and Ale and waif in Little Henny, and two C Group knights, Gernon and Mandevill, claimed the same liberties in their respective tenements in Easthorpe, Birch and la Geruner (sic), and in Black Notley. [129]A further Group C knight, John de Watevill, claimed the assize of Bread and Ale in his tenement in Hempstead, and was also said to have a gallows there. [130]Three remaining knights, all in Group D, claimed frankpledge and Bread and Ale alone. These were Robert de Merk in Dunmow, John de Merk in High Roding, and Thomas Twinstead in Springfield. [131] More complicated, or extensive franchises, were held by the remaining six knights, and, again, the majority were in Groups C and D. John de Beauchamp [A] held view of frankpledge and assizes of Bread and Ale in Fifield in 1285, but was also said to have had a gallows there in 1275. [132]Bartholomew de Brianzon [B] was accused of raising a gallows in West Thurrock in 1271 in 1271-2, which no doubt caused consternation to his tenants, and was said to have wreck, view of frankpledge and an assize of Bread and Ale there in 1285. [133]Four Group C knights, all of them of above average status, held a variety of liberties. William Gernon, for example, held the Hundred of Lexden, Pratellis was said to have two common liberties plus Tumbril and Waif in Sible Hedingham, and Rochford claimed wreck, tumbril, and assize of Bread and Ale in Rochford, and frankpledge, gallows and Bread and Ale in his other tenement at Elesenham. His claim to wreck brought him into litigation with the king, and eventually led to a petition in parliament. [134]Lastly, Richard de Tany was said in 1275 to hold view of frankpledge, Bread and Ale and gallows in Stapleford, frankpledge and a new assize of Bread and Ale in Rochford, and wreck in Elmstead. [135]Under the more rigorous examination of the justices in 1285 he was also found to hold a tumbril in addition to his other liberties in Elmsted, and he claimed the same liberties in Stapleford, defending by right of long user. [135]The evidence of this admittedly small sample suggests that the right to have a gallows, which implied high criminal justice normally reserved to the crown courts and certain baronial liberties, was unusual at the level of the county knights, and that, in general, the franchises exercised, claimed or admitted by the Essex knights were rather minor and limited in extent.

Communal Obligations

The gentry could also be involved in one other aspect of local administration, in its most general sense. This falls under the title of communal obligations, and includes suit at the communal courts of the County and the Hundreds, and the maintenance of roads and bridges, where such duties were obligations of tenure on certain manors. Unfortunately, as with the exercise of franchisal rights, evidence of obligations to perform communal duties tends to emerge only where those who had such obligations failed to perform them and were indicted by jurors of presentment before the justices in Eyre. Thus it cannot be assumed that there were not other knights in the sample who dutifully discharged their unknown obligations. A small minority of the knights in the sample defaulted on suit, either at the Hundred or the County Courts. These were Fillol [A], who also omitted to pay sheriff's aid, Brianzon [B], Tany R. [C] and Rochford [C] [137], all of whom were important and active in various other aspects of royal or local government. Lesser men committed lesser sins, especially in failing to pay their fair share towards

the upkeep of local bridges (pontage). Barew [C], Crepping [C], Merk R. [D], Wauton [A], and Wokingdon [D], were all charged at some time for default of pontage where it was due. [138]No other instances of default of communal obligations have been discovered within this sample, and this aspect of administration, together with franchises, defies any firm conclusions, not least because the evidence from silence may mean either that the duties were performed or that individuals successfully concealed non performance. Both communal obligations and franchisal obligations fall on the borderline between public and private administration, and the vevidence relating to them is almost entirely negative. It cannot be used to indicate anything other than a self evident trend, for example, that the most important knights in a county might claim more extensive franchises than others, and were more likely to default on their communal obligations. About one quarter of the sample owed and defaulted on some form of obligation, either suit of court, or pontage. Only three of the nine known defaulters came from groups A and B, whereas about one third of the resident knights in Group C defaulted, including both the poorer and the wealthier elements in that Group. Similar proportions can be found with the holding of franchises. Only fifteen of the forty two knights in the sample held, or claimed to hold, any form of franchise, but two thirds of those claims, where presented, came from Groups C and D, including many of the knights who were least active in other aspects of local administration. About one third of the knights in Group C and nearly half of those in Group D held franchises which were challenged, compared with only one quarter of the knights in Groups A and B.


A numerical analysis of the functions performed by the Essex knights in local administration reveals a fairly consistent bias towards the knights in Group A. Of the seven knights in the sample who acted as sheriff between 1272 and 1307, five came from Groups A and B, and one each from Groups C and D. On the other hand, of the very few knights known to have acted, however temporarily, as coroners in the same period, two came from Group C and one each from Groups A and B. All were replaced, and the only inference that may tentatively be drawn is that coroners might be appointed from lower levels in the gentry class, possibly even from other freeholders, who met the financial criteria stipulated by the central government even if they were not technically knights.

More reliable information is available for the regular judicial commissions, and here the knights from Groups A and B generally predominated. Of the four Keepers of the Peace, two came from Group A, and one each from Groups C and D. All were current, or ex sheriffs and were clearly experienced men. Commissions of Gaol Delivery were held by six knights, four from Group A and one each from Groups C and D. Again the latter two (Lambourn and Tany R.) were also active in other areas of local administration, and were exceptional in this respect by comparison with other knights in the same groups. Six of the twelve knights who held commissions of Oyer et Terminer came from Groups A and B, compared with four from Group C and two from Group D, and ten of the fourteen special commissions were held by knights in Groups A and B, as against three from Group C and only one from Group D. Lastly, three of the four knights holding commissions of Walls and Ditches came from Groups A and B, as against one from Group D.

Taken overall the numbers are too small to be conclusive, but it is possible to suggest that those knights who acted as either parliamentary representatives or as collectors of taxation were also amongst the most active, strenuous, knight in other detectable aspects of local administration. Moreover Ralph de Boxted was the only knight in Group C to act as Sheriff, John de Watevill was the only Coroner, and Richard de Tany the only justice of Gaol Delivery. The total number of Group C resident knights active in all categories of local administration other than jury service, was no more than six out of fourteen, and the total of Group D non residents was only two out of ten. By comparison nine out of twelve knights in Group A and four out for six in Group B, also performed some other role in local government.

In terms of identifying a possible caucus of Buzones active in local government it would possible to list about twenty five names, rather more than half the sample. Those who might be considered most active in all categories,both judicial, executive and communal, would be

Group A Group B  Group C  Group D
Blount  Baud Barrington   Coggeshall
Breton  Brianzon Boxted Haningfield
Duresme Gros Crepping Lambourne
Fillol  St. Clare  Morel  Mare
Grapinel  Wascoil Pratellis  Merk J.
Lee  Tany R
Sutton  Watevill
Tany J.


If this list is restricted to those executive and judicial functions which might necessitate some special skill or commitment the list drops to around seventeen names, with a marked and obvious predominance of knights from Groups A and B.

Group A Group B  Group C  Group D
Blount  Baud Boxted Haningfield
Breton  Brianzon Tany R Lambourne
Duresme Gros Watevill
Fillol  St. Clare 
Tany J.


Lists of this kind, whilst useful as stage in the winnowing process, are still too crude to serve as a reliable index of performance. In particular they refer only to the numbers of knights holding various categories of office, rather than to the total period of time spent by each participating individual in the various functions of local government. This question, and its relation to the private business activities of the Essex gentry, will be considered in the next chapter.